Kick the Ball

When I was ten my best friend Palmer joined a soccer team. This was in the 1970s, when soccer was still largely a sport played in other countries. All I knew about the game was that you couldn’t use your hands and that there was a man named Pelé who was better at it than anyone else. The few times I caught glimpses of it on TV, it made no sense to me. It seemed disorganized and random. It was woefully lacking in the military order and sense of purpose of American Football. One Saturday I went to watch Palmer play a game. As it happened his team was one player short, and so I was enlisted to serve as the eleventh man. I agreed, but with much trepidation. I did not want to make a fool out of myself. This was my first goal, so to speak. And so, when the ball was passed to me – I froze. Should I pass it, dribble it, simply kick it? I wanted to do the right thing. Unfortunately, sports move at the speed instinct, and I was moving at the speed of deliberation. Palmer’s coach, who was Portuguese, screamed, “Keek da ball! Keek da ball!” Too little too late.

I was moved to goalie. This I understood: keep the ball out of the net. Our opponents managed one shot, which I caught. Of course, once I caught it, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. “Keek da ball!” moaned the coach. “Keek da ball!”

I considered my stint in goal a great success, though Palmer observed, “It was a pretty easy shot.” That was the first and last game of organized soccer I ever played. I can still hear that coach, however. I can still see his frustrated face on the sideline as he wonders how this boy does not know to simply keek da ball.

Many times I have sat down to write stories feeling very much as I did that day when the ball was first passed to me. What should I do now to not be embarrassed? This is precisely the question to ask if you never want to finish a story. The coach had the right idea. Kick it and make a mess of it. Make a mess of everything. It’s a messy-looking game anyway when you look at it in the wrong way. Look at it in the wrong way, and it’s just a bunch of people chasing a ball around field. If you look at it in the wrong way, nothing anyone is doing has meaning at all, whether they are kicking the ball or not.

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